Some midweek thoughts

Hey everyone!
I know how you all enjoy my rambling thoughts, so I’m going to treat you all to some right now! Yes, you really are very lucky…

I’m currently watching House of Flying Daggers, which has a bit of a soap-opera-y story, but also has some truly excellent set-pieces. I draw your attention to the Echo Game near the beginning, and the sequence in the bamboo forest, for but two of these. I also really love the production design – and some of those locations, oh my! But yeah, it is a bit meh as far as the story goes. Can’t let that get in the way though!

Oh yes, and I’m enjoying a cup of lapsang souchong again. Fabulous times!

Speaking of tea, I was working on the degree yesterday evening, and enjoying some Chai tea. It’s something that I don’t go in for all that much, I have to say, but having not had a cup for a long while, it was actually really nice! So there I was, reading Richard Lattimore’s translation of the Odyssey – quite a high-flown translation, in my view, too; I much prefer that of EV Rieu, which I studied for my A level – and drinking Chai tea. Just when you thought life couldn’t be any more pretentious…

IMAG0901

Had a pretty excellent lunch today. I walked into my local game shop to pick up the new saga expansion for Lord of the Rings, and the manager had the Star Wars LCG laid out trying to learn how to play it. Being the gent that I am, I offered to help, and thus had a marvellous impromptu game! I lost, but that doesn’t really say all that much! But in my defense, it’s been a long time since I’ve played this… But anyhow, I’m hoping that I can play this game a bit more often, so have spent a small portion of my evening making up a pair of decks – Scum & Villainy, and Jedi – in the hope that they won’t just be there gathering dust for the next few months!

the road darkens

I’ve only briefly looked at The Road Darkens, and it does look quite fabulous, but I think I might keep it for a while yet. Since I wrote the Mirkwood Cycle blog last week, I’ve been really craving getting back into this game, but I want to start with my favourites. The new expansion doesn’t add a lot of player cards, as the bulk of it is made up of new encounter cards. In fact, this box departs from tradition by having each of the three quests use a single, 30-odd card encounter set. Finally! I usually find myself buying three, or even four copies of deluxe expansions in order to have all of the scenarios set up and ready to go from the start, so this is good news for my wallet! Anyhow, despite only the handful of new player cards, I do want to look at the decks I have set up, as I think there are five decks I have had made up now for about a year at least, with minimal tinkering as new expansion packs have come out, so I could be missing out on some good synergies and combinations.

Pathfinder arrivals

Monday was also quite the day for games, as I had a glut of packs for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game! The seven class decks, along with the Skull & Shackles Character Add-On deck, and the second pack in that path, Raiders of the Fever Sea, and all of the associated promo cards, are now mine! Oh, and I also had the replacement rulebook for the core set delivered too – a veritable tidal wave of cards! Oh, how we chortle…

I’m still only on part two of Rise of the Runelords, of course, and up until last night had been thinking that I’d wait until the end of that adventure path before wading out among the Shackles, but thinking logically about this, there’s no reason to do so, as one is not a continuation of the other. Plus, with the class decks, there is an almighty mass of new heroes to take on a watery adventure! So I might break it out soon. Especially now that I have the rulebook to know how it all works!

Imperial Assault

I was really happy to see this news last night, I have to say! Back when this game was announced at Gen Con this year, I was really excited – finally, a Star Wars board game from Fantasy Flight! My favourite IP from my favourite company! Of course, as part of the deal, they announced ally and villain packs for Luke and Vader which would be included in the core set, which was amazing. But already we’ll be seeing more to help bulk out the game soon after its release! Wonderful stuff!

Imperial Assault, as you no doubt know, is modelled on the popular Descent, so I suppose the closest analogy for these packs would the the Lieutenant packs for the dungeon-crawler. Part of me hopes that we won’t be seeing quite so many, of course, as the number of lieutenants available for Descent is quite scary (it’s 17, if you were wondering). But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

Imperial Assault does bring up an interesting point that has been doing the rounds over the weekend, however. Over on boardgamegeek, a fairly hostile review of the new Warhammer Conquest LCG went up, spawning quite a stunning comments. The original review has been taken down, including some of the offensive follow-up points, but the conversation is still going on as I type. Anyway, while I personally happened to disagree on a lot of the points made, something has emerged as potentially troubling the gaming community. FFG do seem to be putting out a lot of games that recycle mechanics of pre-existing – and, often, ‘current’ – games, and Imperial Assault is a perfect example of this. Descent is still being published, with an expansion released not that long ago, and already we’re seeing this re-skin.

For me, I don’t really see this as a bad thing. One of the driving reasons for why I buy games is the theme: there are quite a lot of games that are respected for their mechanics and such that I have completely passed over simply because the theme doesn’t appeal to me, while I own one or two games that can be said to be almost clones of each other. But this doesn’t really matter, because I can invest myself in the theme which inevitably triumphs over the mechanics anyway. Let me explain…

Warhammer Conquest is said to be a re-skin of Call of Cthulhu, simply because the players are fighting over a central line-up of cards, be they planets or stories (comparisons have also been made with Blood Bowl: Team Manager). The comparison ends there, of course, as combat is handled entirely differently, to say nothing of card draw and resourcing, but the point still seems to stand. Now, I enjoy Cthulhu a lot (check out my blog for more thoughts!), and I have enjoyed my one game of Conquest so far. The fact that the two games bear a superficial resemblance to each other doesn’t really enter my head, as I’m focused on the theme the whole time.

My limited experience with Descent will likely inform my opinion of Imperial Assault in the same way that Cthulhu has done so for Conquest. I am aware that Descent is a good game, but have only really played the solo variant as linked earlier. Because I enjoyed Descent when I have managed to play it does not mean I will not like Imperial Assault “because it’s just Descent in space” – that, to me, is an extremely short-sighted opinion to have. First of all, while Imperial Assault does bear a strong resemblance to Descent, it is not simply a re-skin. However, I enjoy Descent (from what I’ve played of it), and I really enjoy Star Wars. As a reasonably intelligent human being, I can assimilate what I know of the Descent mechanics with what has been previewed of the Imperial Assault game thus far, and I come to the opinion that I will, more than likely, really like the upcoming game. So what’s wrong with that?

Well, creativity is said to be stifled, or game designers are encouraged to be lazy, or somesuch claptrap. I honestly don’t believe that applying a new theme to an existing game system is such a bad idea. RPGs do it all the time, and nobody seems to really care – indeed, it can often be a selling point, as players aren’t faced with the daunting prospect of having to learn an entirely new rules set before they can sit down and enjoy themselves. But I also don’t really see companies like FFG encouraging lazy design over true innovation, as there are plenty of new and upcoming games that they have on the roster that are entirely that – new.

What I feel is happening in the wider gaming community is a confusion of re-themes, or whatever you want to call them, with refining of game systems. Returning to the Cthulhu vs Conquest scenario again, I would say that Conquest has taken an aspect of the older game – the story card line-up – and moulded itself around that, while bearing in mind the source IP, and has produced a game that feels familiar, lowering the barrier of entry, but is nonetheless fresh and true to the Warhammer 40k theme. If Conquest had had four separate conflict stages at each planet; if only three planets were ever up for grabs, and any one of the three could be won after five successful combats there; if players had to build up a domain to manage their economy – this would make me think that Conquest was a lazy design. It has none of these things, of course, so take from that what you will.

In short, I have no real problem with companies taking successful game systems and mechanics, and tinkering with them to create new games. Hell – I am a huge fan of Flying Frog Productions, and count A Touch of Evil and Fortune & Glory among my favourite board games of all time, and they are essentially the same game with a new theme! Flying Frog are living proof, however, of the triumph of theme over mechanics – a common criticism of the company being that they have designed the same game five times. While not exactly true, they have a core “FFP engine” that drives their games, and this has led to players, myself included, being able to concentrate on enjoying the game rather than flicking through the rulebook after every roll of the dice.

To finish this rant, games are meant to be fun! If you have fun while playing the same game in different themes, that’s what it’s all about! If you don’t – well, just move on! It’s hardly like we’re living in a board game drought, after all!

Right then, I’ll put my soapbox away now!

If you haven’t already, and you’re looking for a fun game, then I can heartily recommend you check out this week’s game, Arcana – it’s a deck-building card game for 2 to 4 players where you take the role of a guild in the city of Cadwallon, attempting to gain control of the city by recruiting a number of the notable denizens before the Ducal Jubilee. Highly recommended, and you can pick it up on amazon right now for under £25! Fantastic!

Talking of cities, I’ve booked a trip to London in December. Something to look forward to, as my birthday looms! I do enjoy the capital, though – the British Museum being the main attraction, I won’t deny!

I’m going to stop typing now, anyhow. Hope you’ve all been having an excellent Tuesday!

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